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How do I Join the Military With Drug Charges?

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The U.S. military is welcoming of men and women with a clean background, and sometimes exceptions are made. Depending on personnel staffing requirements, a military service branch might decide to allow those with criminal convictions, such as for drug use, to enlist with a waiver. Military waivers for drug use or other criminal convictions are known as moral waivers. Each military branch has its own policies on the granting of these waivers.

Availability of Moral Waivers

The use of moral waivers by the U.S. military varies as staffing needs increase or decrease. In times when the military is trying to reduce its numbers, for instance, fewer moral waivers for issues such as misdemeanor or felony drug convictions are granted. When the military needs to increase its personnel numbers, though, the use of moral waivers may likewise increase. If you've been convicted of some sort of drug issue, or just used drugs on a recreational basis, successful enlistment in the military could take work.

Requesting a Moral Waiver

Be honest with your military recruiter if you've been arrested or convicted in the past for drug use or any other criminal violation. The military conducts background checks of those seeking to enlist or become commissioned officers, and lying about a criminal past is an automatic disqualifier. If you do have drug charges or other issues in your past, you'll need to obtain a waiver. Depending on the military service, and timing, a moral waiver for drug issues is possible.

Moral Waiver Process

Your request for a moral waiver for enlistment in the military begins with your recruiter. She has the latest information on drug usage and drug conviction waiver policies and can help you assemble your waiver package. If you need to obtain a moral waiver for military enlistment, you're also going to need to provide evidence of meritorious behavior since your drug problem occurred. Depending on the number and severity of your drug issues, your military moral waiver may need high-level approval.

Criminal History Policies

Each military branch's policy on criminal history and moral waiver issuance varies. The Navy, for example, provides for moral waivers for what it terms misconduct offenses, including possession of marijuana. Additionally, the Navy can also issue moral waivers for major misconduct or felony offenses that include sale, distribution or trafficking of marijuana or controlled substances. However, each service branch is allowed to define just what constitutes minor or major misconduct on the part of hopeful enlistees.


Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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